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10 new prison facts from the January 2023 Bromley Briefing
Parole chief warns fewer prisoners are getting tested under new open prison rules in new Bromley Briefing.

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Parole warning

The chief executive of the Parole Board Martin Jones has warned that changes introduced last year by the justice secretary Dominic Raab to the criteria for transfer to open prison conditions will mean fewer prisoners will have the opportunity to be tested under the controlled conditions of an open prison.

Writing in a specially commissioned article on the history of parole in the January 2023 edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, the chief executive of the Parole Board says this change:

“is likely to inevitably lead to some people being released without this crucial testing, and others staying in custody for longer than might have been necessary for the protection of the public.”

Anyone and everyone who wants accurate up-to-date information on what is going on in our prisons relies on the prison factfiles produced by the Prison Reform Trust. Known as the Bromley Briefings, they are issued twice a year. The January 2023 briefing was published on Tuesday (31 January 2023). As usual, I have perused the Briefing in depth and found 10 key facts to share in this post. Since readers of the blog are more than averagely well informed about penal affairs, I have tried to feature some of the less well-known issues.

1: Parole is a success

Only around one in four people considered by the Parole Board each year are released, and we know that the majority of people released repay that trust in the community. Less than one of every 200 prisoners released on parole go on to be convicted of a serious offence within three years of their release.

2: Prison population rising again

England & Wales and Scotland have the highest imprisonment rates in western Europe. The prison population in England & Wales has risen by 75% in the last 30 years and is project to rise by around 16,500 people by 2026.

3: The demise of the Pre-Sentence Report

Courts are over 10 times more likely to impose a community sentence if a pre-sentence assessment is conducted by probation staff. However, the decline in the use of these assessments in recent years is strongly linked to the sharp fall in the number of community sentences.

Pre-sentence reports (PSRs) provide an assessment of the nature and causes of a person’s behaviour, the risk they pose and to whom, as well as an independent recommendation of the sentencing option(s) available to the court.

They are intended to provide the court with a greater understanding of the background and context of the offending behaviour, rather than just the details of the offence; and to assist the court to reach a sentencing decision. However, their use has fallen sharply:

4: Prison sentences are getting longer and longer

More than four times as many people were sentenced to 10 years or more last year compared to a decade earlier. For indictable offences, the average prison sentence is now 61.1 months—more than two years longer than in 2008. Almost all offences now receive a much longer custodial sentence than they used to and recent legislation is set to accelerate this increase even more.

5: IPP latest

Despite its abolition in 2012, there are 1,437 people in prison serving an IPP sentence who have never been released. Nearly all (97%) are still in prison despite having already served their tariff—the minimum period they must spend in custody and considered necessary to serve as punishment for the offence.

228 people have yet to be released from prison despite being given a tariff of less than two years—more than four-fifths of these (188 people) have served ten years or more beyond their original tariff.

There are a further 1,453 people serving an IPP sentence who are back in prison having previously been released—a rise of 7% on the previous year.

6: The state of our prisons

Nine out of 20 prisons (45%) visited by inspectors in 2021–22 were assessed as having “not sufficiently good” outcomes for respect. Overcrowding was cited as problem in most prisons and many were judged to have living conditions requiring significant improvement.

Inspectors noted that enhanced Covid-19 cleaning had improved conditions in communal areas and continued after the end of the restricted regime. However, many cells were dirty and in a poor state of repair, with toilet seats often lacking a seat or lid. Vermin were a major problem in some prisons.

However, recovery from the pandemic has been slow. Most prisoners (53%) spent at least 22 hours a day in their cells—rising to more than two-thirds (69%) during the weekend.

7: Racial disparity

Over a quarter (27%) of the prison population, 21,990 people, are from a minority ethnic group. 13% identify as Black/Black British; 8% as Asian/Asian British; and 5% as mixed/multiple ethnic groups.

There is a clear direct association between ethnic minority group and the odds of receiving a custodial sentence. Black people are 53%, Asian 55%, and other ethnic minority groups 81% more likely to be sent to prison for an indictable offence at the Crown Court, even when factoring in higher not guilty plea rates. Black men are 26% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody.

8: Neurodiversity

Around half of those entering prison are estimated to have some form of neurodivergent condition which impacts their ability to engage with the requirements of the justice system. This is much higher than in the outside community, where the working consensus among professionals is that around 15–20% of individuals have at least one neurodivergent condition.

Prisoners with learning disabilities or difficulties are more likely than other prisoners to have broken a prison rule, they are five times as likely to have been subject to control and restraint, and around three times as likely to report having spent time in segregation.

Inspectors surveying prison and probation staff found consistent low levels of awareness, understanding and confidence relating to neurodiversity. 

9: Women in prison

Many women remanded into custody don’t go on to receive a custodial sentence—in 2021, over a third (34%) of women remanded and tried by the magistrates’ court didn’t receive a custodial sentence. In the Crown Court this figure was more than two in five (44%).

Most women entering prison to serve a sentence (68%) have committed a non-violent offence. 
In 2021 more women were sent to prison to serve a sentence for theft than for criminal damage and arson, drug offences, possession of weapons, robbery, and sexual offences combined.

The proportion of women being sent to prison to serve very short prison sentences has risen. In 1993 only a third of custodial sentences given to women were for less than six months—in 2021 it was half (50%).

10 Home Detention Curfew (HDC)

HDC allows people to live outside of prison, providing they do not breach strict conditions, to help prepare them for life on release. Only people serving sentences of between three months and less than four years are eligible.

There were 9,393 releases on HDC in 2021, a decrease of more than a quarter (27%) on 2019. Use of HDC has fallen significantly since 2002 when over 20,000 people were released. Only a third of people (33%) who were eligible to be released were granted HDC in 2021.


Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here

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